Exclusive: Ageism tsar Dr Ros Altmann warns recruiters in crackdown on discrimination

Altmann pushes for stiffer penalties against bias and more help for over-55s

Recruitment firms should be threatened with the Equality and Human Rights Commission if they fail to do more to prevent age discrimination, the Government’s champion for the rights of older workers has declared.

Dr Ros Altmann, who publishes a report this week on how to improve working conditions for older workers, said: “There is evidence to show there is an in-built bias among recruitment firms and employers with regard to employing the over-50s. I am recommending that there should be proper penalties for employers who flout the law. Recruitment firms should be taken to the EHRC if they do not abide by rules that will ensure fairness for older people wanting to find work.”

Recruiters should be encouraged to take part in a voluntary code – and job adverts should say clearly that the application is open to everyone – regardless of age, she said. “We have to make sure that the mature know they are eligible for all jobs and to help give them back their confidence.”

The bias is particularly acute towards women, according to Dr Altmann, who has heard from a number of senior human resource professionals that women’s career progression in most companies stops around the age of 45. By contrast, most senior men are given career help and advice until they reach 55.

Taking action against recruitment firms is one of the government tsar’s 12 recommendations for action in her report to be launched on Wednesday at the House of Commons and attended by the sixty-plus model, Twiggy, as star guest.

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She is also pushing companies to offer “mature” apprentice schemes. Barclays has already signed up to such a scheme, while National Express is launching what it calls “open” apprenticeships to drive attempts to help people re-enter the world of work, in tandem with the Pensions minister, Steve Webb.

Dr Altmann adds that encouraging more over-50s back to work does not threaten youngsters entering the workplace. “By 2022, there will be 700,000 fewer people aged 16 to 49 in the UK – but 3.7 million more people aged between 50 and the state pension age. If the over-50s continue to leave the workforce in line with previous patterns, we would suffer serious labour and skills shortages which could not be filled by immigration alone.”

Helping to boost confidence in older workers, as well as help with skills and training, is another recommendation. “There are huge benefits to society and the economy in ensuring that older people can and are able continue to work into their sixties and seventies. People are healthier than ever, and it is shown that working longer means a longer life – with savings for the NHS and carers.”

A national “confidence” campaign for older workers, similar to the one designed for those with disabilities, should be launched, she said. “Time and time again I heard from people that they lack confidence; they suffered from all sorts of issues ranging from the effects of menopause to fears over loss of status in taking a job at a lower level than they had been doing before.”

Women miss out: new jobs low-paid and part-time

Nearly half the growth in female employment since the recession has been in low-paid, part-time work, according to the TUC.

Its analysis of official figures found that full-time employment accounted for all of the net growth in male employment last year, but only 47 per cent for women.

The research also found that women who moved into part-time jobs last year typically received much lower rates of pay than those who secured full-time jobs.

Over four-fifths of the net growth in women’s part-time employment in 2014 was in low-paid jobs such as clerical, caring and cleaning work. The average hourly pay for women working part-time in administrative and clerical occupations in 2014 was £9.34 an hour. For those in caring or cleaning it was just £8.12 and £6.70 an hour respectively.

The TUC’s general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “Unless we create better-paid part-time and flexible work opportunities, far too few women will see any real benefit from the recovery.”

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